Tag Archives: invertebrates

Quote of the Week #80

FLYAWAY-2085I haven’t met many people who don’t enjoy butterflies. After all, what’s not to like? They are beautifully colored, fly gracefully, don’t kill things, have amazing life cycles and just generally bring a smile to your soul when you see one.

They start out as a tiny egg, hatch out, then eat, eat, eat, molt several times, make a chrysalis, and then, some days later, transform into a lovely butterfly–a sure symbol of something we all can use–HOPE.

So, this week’s quote:

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, she became a butterfly.

If you live locally to western North Carolina, please come out and join me THIS TUEDAY (April 18th) night at 7:30 for my first program –about butterflies and moths–with my new Meetup group, called Share Nature More. To learn more, or to sign up, click here.

If you don’t live locally I’m sorry I will miss you! You can click these links to see some amazing butterfly transformations (these will knock your socks off! )-a monarch here or a red-spotted purple here, or the emergence of a variegated fritillary here. Or if you want, check out 10 things you might not know about butterflies.

Posted in Animals, Insects, Spiders and other Invertebrates, Quote of the Week, Wisdom for your Wednesday | Also tagged , , , , , Leave a comment

The Creatures of Halloween…10 Things You Might Not Know

pump-8537So happy Halloween everyone! I hope you are having a wonderful day and doing something festive for the holiday. Maybe you carved a pumpkin or went to a parade or will give out some candy tonight. Whatever the case, Happy Day!

A Lyle's flying fox from Thailand--these have a 3 foot wingspan!

A Lyle’s flying fox from Thailand

You know the creatures of Halloween, right? Namely BATS, SPIDERS, RAVENS and CROWS. Can you think of any others that deserve being on this list?

Well let’s look at 10 things about these misunderstood critters that you may know know:

1.All BATS do not carry rabies! This is a myth. Less than one half of one percent contract rabies. The best thing you can do to protect yourself from bat rabies is to never touch a sick or injured bat and make sure your children or grandchildren are instructed to never touch ANY wild animal–be it a bat, squirrel, chipmunk, etc.

2.All BATS are not vampires and vampire BATS actually will share their meals with other bats! Of more than 1300 worldwide species of bats, only 3 feed on blood and those all live in Latin America. And they don’t suck it like the movies suggest, they lap it up like a kitten drinks milk. Two feed on the blood from birds and the other–a common vampire bat–usually feeds on livestock or birds. The animal seldom is even aware it has been visited and the bat drinks only about a tablespoon per visit. If a vampire bat can’t find a meal, another bat may share its meal (regurgitated blood) and then, if that bat is ever in need, the favor will be returned! And vampire bats participate in social grooming.

3. BATS are NOT blind! Bats have eyes but many rely on echolocation to “see” their surroundings, more than on their eyesight. Their sonar is so amazing they can detect an object in the air thinner than a human hair. Fruit bats have big eyes and a fabulous sense of smell to find their food–nectar and fruit.

Check out this slideshow of some of the world’s bat species–there are so many cute and amazing faces! And these pictures are truly amazing! All of these slides are courtesy of Merlin Tuttlefounder of my favorite organizationBat Conservation International. This organization works to change public perception of bats, educate decision-makers, and protect valuable bat habitat and the flying mammals these habitats serve.

Medagascan fruit batPainted bat in Thailand--Wow, this is beautiful!!Male Chapin's free-tailed bat during courtshipMinor epauletted fruit bat Africa-- (turned upside down!)Hoary bat of North AmericaEpauletted fruit bat in KenyaAustralian ghost batFish eating batFrog-eating or fringe-lipped bat in PanamaGrandidler's trident bat from MadagascarGreater Long-tongued Nectar bat, SE AsiaMacconnell's bat, Costa RicaOrange nectar bat in tropical forestsVeldkamp's dwarf epauletted fruit batBig Brown bat--one of our common NA batsFormosan golden bat, AsiaGreater Naked Bat, ThailandHairy-legged vampire bat--these feed on the blood of birdsHammer-headed bat, AfricaHonduran white batIndiana myotis--one of our endangered speciesThe world's smallest bat-Kitti's hog-nosed bat, Thailand.jpgLesser bulldog bats in ParaguayLesser short-nosed fruit bat, ThailandPallid bat with centipede--they are not affected by the stings!Rafinesque's big-eared batSpotted bat, UtahStraw-colored fruit batTownsend's big eared bat

Which one is your favorite? Are you surprised at the variety? I was! (If you want to learn more about bats I highly recommend Merlin Tuttle’s book called The Secret Lives of Bats. It is fascinating)

4.  Bats are not pests or flying rodents. Bats provide us with amazing services and are essential parts of ecosystems worldwide. An average-size bat can eat more than 1000 mosquito-sized insects (including mosquitoes) in ONE HOUR! A mother bat will eat her body weight in insects each night. Imagine how many insects an entire colony of thousands or even millions of bats consumes nightly! In addition,bats pollinate many plants, spread seeds, save farmers billions of dollars in pest control, maintain healthy forests, provide guano which is an important fertilizer in many parts of the world, and are important in medical research. Like cats, bats groom themselves regularly to keep clean and are more closely related to primates than rodents.

5.There are more than 50,000 species of SPIDERS in the world! And of those only 1/20th of 1%  have venom capable of causing illness in humans. And guess what? They are HARD to identify–usually requiring a microscope.

tar-0486.You know those TARANTULAS that scary movies always seem to feature? Well one of the reasons they use them is because they are so easy to handle and their venom has such a low toxicity to humans. None of the North American species pose a bite hazard to people–the worst you have to fear when handling one are the irritating hairs on their abdomen which can cause mild skin rashes or inflammation of the eyes and face. Tarantulas can live to be 30 years old!

7.SPIDERS are not “out to get you” despite what the scary Halloween movies may suggest. Spiders use their venom solely for subduing or killing their prey–usually insects or other invertebrates. Wasting it on you for no reason is not likely. Despite what popular media and medical professionals may suggest, spider bites are uncommon.

A crab spider with a beetle. These spiders do not build webs.

A crab spider with a beetle. These spiders do not build webs.

8.All SPIDERS do not build webs. Many hunt and stalk their prey or ambush unsuspecting insects. Those that don’t build webs use their silk for protecting their eggs and as a dragline when moving around.

9.RAVENS have been known to play–just for fun. Check out this video of ravens sledding down a metal roof!

Crows are very smart

Crows are very smart

10. Crows have the largest brain to body ratio of any bird. Like a chimpanzee, they are very smart. They have excellent memories and can find food, move it, stash it again and still find it many days later.

Did you learn anything? Once I got started, I discovered there was SO MUCH to talk about… but of course 10 things is 10 things! So I stopped there. If you want to read more about this you can check out these posts about BATS or SPIDERS.  Or if you want, you can try a Halloween quiz that I created last year. Test what you know! Also, don’t forget–if you are local to western North Carolina, you still have time to sign up for my bat class at the Blue Ridge Community College on November 7th from 1-3.

Happy Halloween!

Our dog Schroeder's Halloween costume!

It’s BAT DOG!

Posted in Animals, Birds, Mammals, Ten Things | Also tagged , , , , , , , 4 Comments

Quote of the Week #75

puz-7400Remember that beautiful chrysalis I featured as a puzzler recently? And that I said I hoped I would get to see it emerge? Well guess what?

When I woke up on Saturday and looked at this chrysalis, it was notably different, appearing darker with obvious orange wings visible through the thin layer. Having never watched this kind of butterfly emerge before ( I have only seen a monarch and a red-spotted purple emerge as a butterfly) I wasn’t sure what the timing might be so I set up my camera and tripod a foot away and settled in to watch. It was 8:30.

The chrysalis at 8:30am

The chrysalis at 8:30am

All morning I sat close by, watching and photographing the changes–which were so subtle that I would miss them if I didn’t look frequently and carefully. There was a general loosening at the top, more air spaces within the chrysalis and a flattening of the pointy projections on the outside of the chrysalis. I could see the butterfly was slowly moving downward.

The chrysalis at 11:30

The chrysalis at 11:30

There were several false alarms–“I think it’s about to go!” I shouted exuberantly more than once. My husband sat with me in the beginning, enjoying a cup of coffee as we watched. We stared at the tiny chrysalis before us, looking and looking to see if anything was happening. I was hopeful. He was patient.  An hour went by. Then two. After several hours of “I think it’s going!” he eventually moved off to do other things, leaving me to sit alone. (No need for both of us to just sit there and watch it doing nothing!)

At just before noon I saw the bottom “hinge” opening and shouted for him to come join me. Together we watched as the tiny butterfly struggled from its chrysalis. Wow, this is an incredible thing to witness!

You can see it here!

And so, this week’s quote,

vf4

What miracles have you witnessed lately?

If you want to watch a Monarch caterpillar making its chrysalis, you can watch that here.

Posted in Animals, For My Soul, Insects, Spiders and other Invertebrates, Quote of the Week, Wisdom for your Wednesday | Also tagged , , , , , , 6 Comments

Quote of the Week #74

I have been spending a lot of time in a field near my house looking for Mother Nature’s treasures. Each day when I know I will be doing this I wake up excited and with a feeling of anticipation, like a child on Christmas eve or Christmas morning. I race through getting dressed and breakfast, anxious to get out there and see what I will discover. (Reminds me of a post I wrote called What Inspires you to skip?)

dsc_7730

A most spectacular gulf fritillary butterfly on New York ironweed

There’s no telling WHAT that might be. Since finding that metallic chrysalis recently, I have been keyed in on looking for more chrysalises and amazingly, have found MANY, though most of the others were from a butterfly called a Buckeye (photos below in the slide show). These are much less impressive, though still equally miraculous in how the process occurs.

Today I found 13 chrysalises, though only 7 of them were still intact–the others were hollow inside, already eaten by some hungry insect. I brought the good ones home so I can have a chance to watch them emerge.

I know one of these days when I arrive excited for a heavenly morning of photography, I will find this field mowed… I dread this, knowing it will be a very sad day. It will break my heart in a way I suspect not all that many people will understand.

In my bios and artist statement, I often say I have had an intimate relationship with the natural world since I was a child. I suspect this baffles some people. Intimate? With nature? Huh?

But it is hard to describe it with any other word. When you return again and again to the same plot of wild land–whatever size it happens to be– you begin to learn things about it, just as you would a lover’s body.

I love this intimacy with nature! I am beginning to be able to predict what butterflies I will see, where the turkeys will be, where the deer bed down, where to look for chrysalises, and what plants I can expect to find caterpillars feeding on. I have watched deer browsing along the woods in the back corner, have enjoyed the calls of a pair of red-shouldered hawks that are often nearby, have heard the turkeys gobbling in the adjacent field and have seen goldfinches and other birds feeding on the seeds of the flowers. I have lain in the grass surrounded by yellow and purple blossoms, looking up into a sea of blue, watching turkey vultures soaring on invisible air currents. In spending such quality time there I have become attached to the field and its inhabitants.

And so… this week’s quote, a long one to be sure, but one of my very favorite from a man I very much admire–Henry David Thoreau who said:

dsc_7838-edit

“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs…–that is your success. All nature is your congratulation and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality… the true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening.

It is a little bit of star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.”

I have written about this theme before– quote #42 about each moment of the year, or #44 about everything having a voice, or #58 about getting to know something in nature or #68 about nature making you whole.

What do you think of these? Do you know what I mean when I say an intimate relationship with nature? Have you experienced this during your lifetime?

Check out some of the photos from my recent visits to this field:

A most beautiful gulf fritillaryA buckeye covered with dewA backlit sulfurA monarchA skipperCaterpillar of a buckeyeA crab spider waitsA buckeye chrysalis in NY ironweedA moth with dewLadybugSkipperHaven't identified this caterpillar yet!Ailanthus webworm mothA jumping spider with preyAnother sulfurA variegated fritillaryAnother skipper!Haven't identified this one yet either!Wow, what beauty!A gulf fritillary and a variegated fritillary togetherA buckeye on goldenrodDotted with dewA buckeyeA variegated fritillaryA fuzzy caterpillarBeauty in the little thingsWater on cloverWater art!SuspendedMy favorite--web art!More web artA crab spider with dinnerPraying mantisSwirls of a passion vine

Posted in For My Soul, Just for Fun, Lessons from Mother Nature, Quote of the Week, Wisdom for your Wednesday | Also tagged , , , , , 2 Comments

Weekly Puzzler Answer #130

Okay, so yes I am guilty of making that last puzzler WAY TOO HARD. I see that now. It was close to impossible! Sorry!

puz-7400Perhaps you were able to determine it was a CHRYSALIS, but had no idea from what butterfly. I didn’t know either and had to look it up when I found it. The problem is that I have amazing reference books since this is what I do for a living and many of you might lack these books.

Do you know the difference between a chrysalis and a cocoon? Many people use the two terms interchangeably, but this is not correct. The two are very different.

Both butterflies and moths produce silk but they use it differently. One way a butterfly uses its silk is to attach its PUPA to a hard structure. A PUPA is the resting stage of insects, such as butterflies and moths, that undergo complete metamorphosis. (The other kind of metamorphosis is gradual or incomplete. In this kind there are 3 stages rather than 4: egg, nymph/larva,adult.Bugs and beetles are two insects that go through incomplete metamorphosis)

A CHRYSALIS is strictly used for a BUTTERFLY pupa.

A chrysalis is the hard skin of a butterfly’s body beneath its last molting and it can be many different colors, textures,shapes and sizes. If you want, you can watch a chrysalis being made here–this is AMAZING!

A COCOON on the other hand is a silken case that a moth caterpillar (or other insect) spins around it (for protection) before it enters the pupal stage.

So the chrysalis from last week’s puzzler? Well to be honest, I am not 100% certain! At first I was sure it was from a butterfly called a Baltimore Checkerspot but in all my time outside, and especially lately in the same field everyday, I have never seen this butterfly. What I have seen are lots of Variegated Fritillaries, including their

A variegated fritillary caterpillar.

A variegated fritillary caterpillar.

caterpillars–which are just as beautiful as the butterfly and chrysalis. These chrysalises are very similar, both surely at the top of the list of most beautiful chrysalises of all butterflies. So having seen so many Variegated Fritillaries in the field, I am pretty sure that’s what it is.

I brought this metallic chrysalis home and am keeping an eye on it, hoping I will notice some change and then get to witness its emergence. That would be AMAZING!! However, not knowing when it was made puts me at a disadvantage. Most butterflies stay in their chrysalis 10-14 days. So of course this one could be right at the beginning of that, in the middle, or nearing the end. I can only look at it regularly and try to be home often to check on it.

A variegated fritillary

A variegated fritillary

If I witness its emergence, you can be sure I will share my photos with you! Cross your fingers for me! Last year I watched some other butterflies emerging from their chrysalises–You can check them out too– a red-spotted purple butterfly emerging from its chrysalis or a monarch emerging from its lovely green chrysalis. If you’ve never gotten to see this–it’s worth a look, as it’s a real miracle of nature…absolutely amazing!

Did you know that all the pictures featured in my blog posts were taken by ME? I spend a great deal of time out in the field and forest and other wild places photographing all kinds of plants and animals so I can share it with you here on my blog or elsewhere in programs that I teach. ( I am teaching a class about bats in November if you are interested!)

Want to check out the next puzzler? It’s about a red-crested bird. I guarantee it is easier than this last one! Don’t forget to add your guess in the comment box below for your chance to be qualified in the next drawing. It only takes a minute!

Have a great weekend! See you again soon!

Posted in Animals, Insects, Spiders and other Invertebrates, Weekly Puzzler | Also tagged , , , , , , , , Leave a comment

Weekly Puzzler Answer #120

What are these small globs?

What are these small globs?

Did you have any idea what these tiny globs were on the damselfly’s body from last week’s puzzler?

When I first started noticing them I thought they were eggs that had somehow gotten stuck on the female’s body rather than left behind in the water. But after a little investigating, I learned that they are actually water mites–a tiny critter that rides around on the larger insect, feeding on the damselfly’s body fluid before falling off and going about its life.

Have I mentioned how many odd and awesome animals there are in the world?

There are 1500 species of Hydrachnida–water mites, in North America and over 5000 in the world. Many of these remain fairly unknown to scientists. Water mites are TINY, most only 2-3mm long! Most go unnoticed.

There are mites that live in the water, soil, in birds’  nests, in animals’ homes, on plants and animals–more than 50,000 different kinds! Many mites are specialists–that is they have one animal they parasitize– be it honey bees, dogs, cats, water boatman, damselflies or dragonflies, etc. There is a mite that lives in the tropics that is among the STRONGEST animal on earth, able to lift 1,182 times its weight! And you’ve probably heard of dust mites? Well these are just another kind of mite–these feed on the dead skin and hair shed by humans… yes, I know–gross!

…So back to the water mites.

They go through 4 stages–egg,larva,nymph and adult. In the immature stages they have only 6 legs but as adults they have 8. (Same is true for ticks, which are related to mites) Most are brightly colored to warn fish and other animals of their terrible taste. Check out the red mites on this dragonfly below.

Here are some water mites on a dragonfly--look closely under the wings.

Here are some water mites on a dragonfly–look closely under the wings.

Do the water mites harm the insect hosts? Usually not though if there are enough of them, they could make it hard for the insect to fly or may get in the way of reproduction. Mostly they just feed on the body fluids, ride around some and then drop off to become adults. Sound like fun? I can’t imagine how they know when to drop off–but if it’s over water, imagine the ride!

Check out the next puzzler.

Posted in Animals, AQUATIC, Insects, Spiders and other Invertebrates, Weekly Puzzler | Also tagged , , , , , Leave a comment

What do you Know about Spiders? Test Your Spider IQ

spider-9275Are you one of the many people afraid of spiders? Do you cringe when you see one or run the other way? Have nightmares about them?… or, do you LIKE spiders?

In the two weeks that my nieces and nephew were here this summer, we spent a lot of time outside. I learned early on that both girls were afraid of spiders and so I did my best in my short time with them to teach them about spiders, though I have to say that even at their young ages–9 and 13, a lot of “knowledge” has already been accumulated and it was difficult to convince them that I was right and what they knew was wrong.

If their Mom or Dad said so, then surely it HAD to be true. Same of their teachers at school. 

As their Aunt–and one who lives far away– I fall low on the list of people to believe. How could what I say be different from what they have already learned! How could these trusted adults in their lives be wrong!?

People LEARN to be afraid of spiders

People LEARN to be afraid of spiders

People aren’t born afraid of things, they learn to be afraid–from other people, from TV shows, movies, videos etc. I am sure a huge part of fear comes from watching how others react. If your parents are afraid of spiders, snakes, bats and other animals, so too in most cases will be the kids. As a child I too was afraid of these things, mostly from watching how my Mom reacted to them–to say she was terrified of snakes, and likely spiders too, is not an exaggeration.

Luckily I have changed since then and no longer fear these fascinating animals. I am proof people can change! (Read more about overcoming a fear of spiders)

When asked to elaborate on what I do or what my mission is, I often say I am a Nature Photographer, Naturalist, Writer, Teacher, Lover of all things wild, and unofficial Spokeswoman for bats, spiders, snakes, and other creatures Hollywood has convinced us to fear. There are SO MANY myths out there surrounding some of our common animals. And it really is too bad because the results are needless fear and persecution.

sc2-4385And so, in thinking about this, I decided it would be fun to do a short quiz on spiders, just to see if what you know is fact or fiction. Years ago I did a post on this but I realize that many of you are new subscribers and likely did not read that post. So here it is! Click on each one to see the correct answer.

True or False:

  1. All spiders are poisonous.
  2. Spiders are hard to identify and to figure out the species, a microscope is required.
  3. Spiders don’t eat their prey, they “suck” the juices from it.
  4. Spiders are insects.
  5. All spiders make silken webs to catch their prey.
  6. Spider bites are uncommon.
  7. Tarantulas are not the deadly creatures Hollywood makes them out to be.
  8. Black widow females always kill and eat their mates.
  9. Brown recluses are common throughout the United States and are easily identifiable by the violin on their carapace.
  10. Medical professionals can easily identify spider bites by twin punctures and from the symptoms described by their patient.

How did you do?

If you are in a hurry and don’t have time to read all of the answers, but want to know how you did, Click HERE for the quick version with NO explanation of the answers.

Posted in Animals, Insects, Spiders and other Invertebrates, Myth Busters | Also tagged , , , 1 Comment